British troops have formally handed over security to Afghan Forces in the capital of Helmand Province today - a significant milestone in a process of transition.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said:
“The UK and our ISAF partners remain committed to helping the Afghan Government ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes an operating base for international terrorism.
“Although UK forces will no longer be in a combat role in Afghanistan by 2015, we will continue to provide military and development assistance. We are preparing a strong, long term partnership with Afghanistan based on diplomacy, trade and development that will continue beyond the end of transition.”
Governor of Helmand Province, Gulab Mangal said:
“Today sees first area in Lashkar Gah transfer to the sons of Afghanistan, who have trained hard for this job and already fight bravely to provide security over many months in Lashkar Gah, defeating the enemy everywhere. Our Afghan National Security Forces provided full security for the elections in all of Helmand last September, and the Afghan Commanders planned the event with very few problems.
“Every day I wake up in Helmand, proud to be an Afghan. Today, I am especially proud that the people of Helmand, like the other places in Afghanistan, are starting to take control of this beautiful Province that has been my proud home for many years.
“The sacrifices made by the coalition forces, in 5 years, first led bravely by the British, then the strong Americans, and alongside great warriors from Denmark, and Estonia and other nations, will never be forgotten by our people.”
Lashkar Gah, where British troops have operated since 2006, is the fourth of seven districts across Afghanistan where responsibility for security is gradually shifting from ISAF forces to their Afghan counterparts.
Afghan Army and Police units have been assuming responsibility for security in the town over recent months. Today, no coalition troops are involved in the day-to-day security of the bustling town.
British forces will stay in the remainder of Central Helmand province where they will continue to develop the capability and capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Although security in Lashkar Gah is good, work in other areas will continue to ensure UK forces remain on track to withdraw combat forces by the end of 2014.
In support of the military effort to strengthen the ANSF, British and international civilians are successfully building structures of accountable Government, with budgets and priorities tied to the population’s needs, and supporting efforts to reintegrate Taliban fighters. The UK led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) continues to move away from direct delivery in Helmand, to supporting the increasingly capable Afghan systems now in place. The PRT will complete its own draw down by the end of 2014.
In his latest blog, Head of the Provincial Reconstruction Team Michael O’Neill said the principal criterion to assess progress is not what we have done ourselves, but what Afghan authorities can do in future.